Monday, 12 September 2011

The Grant Museum of Zoology

The other day a spur-of-the-moment decision lead me to pop into the Grant Museum of Zoology in the Bloomsbury area of London. The museum is actually part of my alma mater, University College London and I was keen to have a look as I had last visited the collection over ten years ago. In this period the museum has moved from its old haunt (a rather dingy set of subterranean rooms, as I recall) to a much brighter and more airy premises on Gower Street.

Upon entering I was pleasantly surprised. The collection in at one modern in its presentation while retaining its traditional roots. There are many iPads mounted here-and-there allowing visitors to view information and even leave comments. At the same time the museum has a Victorian air – many of the exhibits are genuine specimens in formaldehyde which feature their original hand-written labels. The main room is wood paneled and all the cases are of polished or painted wood as well. There are a few nice touches which show the museum does not take itself too seriously – looking up, visitors will see monkey skeletons clambering up the architecture as if they have escaped from their cases. All too often collections of this sort can be rather po-faced, so touches like this are refreshing.

The collection is named after Robert Edmund Grant who is best remembered as being Darwin’s tutor. It is unfortunate that the success of his protégé rather eclipses his achievements as he was an eminent and progressive biologist himself. He was an atheist and so was barred from Oxford and Cambridge universities and consequently he was denied access to the Royal College of Surgeons (who only accepted Oxbridge graduates) He campaigned against this injustice for most of his life.

I would highly recommend visiting the collection if you’re in the area. An important footnote is that it’s only open on weekday afternoons, so check before you visit.

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